Autumn Raptor Migration in Yellowstone National Park, 2011–2015

Lisa M. Baril, David B. Haines, Lauren E. Walker, Douglas W. Smith


Raptors are wide-ranging, vagile avian predators whose populations can be difficult and costly to monitor on their breeding or winter range. However, monitoring raptors during their annual northbound or southbound migration is a cost-effective and efficient alternative to time-intensive, single-species breeding surveys. In 2010, we observed numerous Swainson’s Hawks (Buteo swainsoni) and Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) migrating through the Hayden Valley in central Yellowstone National Park, prompting an investigation into raptor migration patterns in the park. Our objectives were to monitor annual autumn raptor migration in Hayden Valley from 2011 to 2015 and to determine the relative role of this undocumented migration site by comparing our observations to simultaneously collected migration data from three other sites in the Rocky Mountain Flyway. From 2011 to 2015, we observed 6441 raptors of 17 species across 170 d and 907 h of observation. Red-tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, and Golden Eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) accounted for 51% of the total individuals observed over five years. Overall counts from Hayden Valley were comparable to counts from the three migration sites in the Rocky Mountains, although abundance of individual species varied by site. Data from this study suggest that Hayden Valley may serve as a stopover site for migrating raptors and presents an opportunity for future research. By improving our understanding of where raptors migrate and the characteristics of stopover areas in the Rocky Mountains, land managers may develop effective strategies for protecting raptor populations and habitat from threats including development and climate change.


Migration; raptor; birds; Yellowstone National Park; Rocky Mountain Flyway; Wyoming

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